INNOVATION AT RIGBY ROAD - 5
Following on the abortive effort with modifying Car 638 in 1969 the management team at the Transport Offices set about a consultative exercise with platform staff to determine the optimal redesign for a small fleet of trams able to operate as one man cars, particularly in the long winter timetable season.
Central Government funding allowed bus operators to move away from rear platform and conductors through purchase of front entrance vehicles, and the conversion of traditional rear entrance types. Outside of London (and Blackpool) the days of crew operated traditional double deck buses were numbered.
Ironically Blackpool's transport management had 'amassed' a substantial fleet of open platform rear entrance double deck buses through successive purchases during the 1960s. These would ensure the town, along with the Capital, was one of the last operators of this long familiar feature on British urban streets.
Enquiries made to the Whitehall department responsible for assigning grants to bus operators to enable conversion to one man vehicles - established that there was no reason why the policy did not apply to trams as well. Given that only Blackpool was operating trams by this time - this anomoly had slipped through Whitehall radar. With the prospect of significant largesse on the table (as it were) Rigby Road's Workshops geared up to deal with the largest tram reconstruction project since the 'Progress Twin-Car' work involving ten rail coach rebuilds.
It was determined that a minimum of thirteen single deck trams would be needed to cover the winter tram service - allowing for servicing and 'demics'. Focus turned to English Electric rail coaches remaining in the fleet. A handful were still in service in much of their original form; while others stood in Blundell Street awaiting scrapping. One example had been given an all over green paint job to become the inevitable 'Permanent Way' car - this would not be for long: whilst 618 had already been made into a guinea pig (so to speak) through its extended frame, redesigned cab ends and extra seating. It was this latter work which literally pointed the way to what became Rigby Road's most successful 'in-house' tram design; even if it would turn out to be an interim stop-gap before a need for totally new trams just over a decade later. The one man cars would become the 'trams wot saved the system'. Had it not been for the ingenuity of the Works staff at this quite critical time when staffing costs had to be significantly reduced on the trams - there was a very real chance of the Council calling time on tram operation in Blackpool. The town stood alone in maintaining an overly expensive transport mode that had past its sell by date everywhere else in the UK (but not Europe).
Swansong of the English Electric rail coaches by 1970. A late survivor complete with obtrusive roof mounted advertising boxes (for cigarettes) is en route to Fleetwood from the Tower tram stop. An Inspector looks on (far left).
Below : Brave new world. A revitalised example shows off its front profile shortly after entering service. The very sharp 'plum and custard' colours made all the difference in the launch of the 'OMO' cars in 1972. Much like this year's launch of the stylish 'Palladium' buses with their dramatic branding.
The driver had now to operate the traditional controller with his right hand - and tend to fares to his left. Note the ticket issuing machine intruding on the driver's windscreen view (at Starr Gate). All Photos by John Woodman